Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Robots Take Over Warehouse Work!

From: Boston.com
Carrying the load
In an industry motivated mostly by gee-whiz factor, Bay State firms take the lead in creating robots with real-world uses
"Don't call them robots.
I made the mistake five minutes into a conversation with Kiva Systems Inc. chief executive Mick Mountz, who paused for a second, smiled, and explained:
"We're not about the robot. This company was founded to solve a business problem, and a lot of robotics companies are about a cool technology that is looking for an application."
The idea of turning a warehouse over to stout orange robots the size of an ottoman might induce anxiety in the average logistics manager, and so Mountz prefers to call the rolling machines built by his Woburn-based company "mobile drive units" (though he sometimes relents and uses the term "bots").
The theory is that the bots can make order fulfillment faster and more efficient, letting a human stuff more boxes per hour. Kiva's bots can also rearrange warehouses on the fly, moving racks of popular items closer to the workers, while consigning slow-selling items to a distant corner. So far, customers like Staples Inc., Walgreen Co., and the online shoe store Zappos.com have been willing to give Kiva a try.
Kiva is part of a growing cluster of Massachusetts companies that are developing a new generation of robots that can do surprising things: clean out rain gutters, swim underwater to inspect the hulls of Navy vessels, and manage warehouses. The state has more than 150 companies and research labs working on robots, according to the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council, which says the figure is conservative.
"Boston and Pittsburgh both have a good number of robotics companies, but Boston has the advantage, in terms of being a larger city, and a larger investment community, " says Dan Kara, president of Robotics Trends, a Natick company that organizes the annual RoboBusiness conference; it alternates between Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. Silicon Valley, Kara says, has a decent number of robotics companies, but doesn't register very high on the robotics Richter scale..."
Read the full article @ its source: http://www.boston.com/business/articles/2008/02/24/carrying_the_load/

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